Whether you know her band, Shivaree, or not, you’re likely familiar with their work and the voice of former vocalist, Ambrosia Parsley. In the late nineties to mid-aughts, the rootsy Americana group was tapped for soundtracks to the small and big screen alike and could be heard in everything from teen television melodrama to Tarantino films and even appeared on the Silver Linings Playbook after the band’s 2007 separation.
Nearly a decade later, the dusky vocals of Parsley are making a reappearance on her debut solo album, Weeping Cherry, out next week. The album follows well in the footsteps of her full band, exploring the more serious, somber edges of American roots rock, blues, and jazz-infused pop with Parsley’s distinctive, alluring vocals lighting the way from start to finish.
We got a chance to check in with Ambrosia leading up to the album release and a string of shows to follow to talk about her time away form the industry, making time for family, and the origins of the new album.
Read on as you listen to the slow, darkly jazzy number “Make Me Laugh” off the new album.
raven + crow: Alright, first off, thanks for taking some time to talk with us, Ambrosia. And congratulations on the album—I know it’s been a long time coming, so it must feel good to be able to share it.
So, the album title, Weeping Cherry, comes from a really beautiful track about halfway through the album. It almost reminds me of old Cowboy Junkies. Can you tell me why you chose that as the title track and how it speaks to the larger piece of work?
Ambrosia Parsley: Well, I’d read somewhere that kamikaze pilots sometimes painted pictures of cherry blossoms on their planes. Many songs on this record speak directly to some dead friends of mine who were sort of like kamikazes. There’s also a big weeping cherry at the bottom of my road. I’m pretty much lousy with reasons.
Sounds reasonable enough to me. Your music—and that of your old band, Shivaree—definitely has a kind of retro, classic feel. Are you a particularly big fan of early doo-wop, blues and the like or do you just tend to write music that fits that genre well?
What was it like recording a solo album compared to your collaborative work with Shivaree?
You think I made all that noise by myself? We had a lovely time and I collaborated frequently and vigorously with The Elegant Too (Chris Maxwell & Phil Hernandez). Also this time around again for Danny McGough, Joan Wasser & AA Bondy, all of whom have Shivaree’d in the past. Any day spent with the aforementioned is a beautiful and very lucky one.
This album was initially released in France last year, correct?
How did that come about and why there before the States?
Hah. I think it was originally announced that you were going to release your first solo album a year or so after Shivaree broke up, in 2008 or so, but that never came to fruition. Is this that album? Meaning, if you had released the album six years back, would have a similar sound; similar songs?
I don’t remember announcing anything, but if If i did, I was probably just guessing/talking smack. Wow, that is a really excellent question and I’m afraid we’ll never know. Fingerprints or fashion….hmmm…
Fair enough. Was the reason you didn’t release the album earlier more industry-related or more personal? I know you relocated upstate and now have a son. Did it just seem like a good time in your life to step away from that part of your life for a bit?
Personal of course! Anyone can put out a record if they want to. I never saw the urgency there. You do when you do. Mothering is for real. You have to do it just then. Very urgent. They can’t even stand up for christ sakes! One needs to really concentrate on for a while ( forever?) and I really enjoy that deliverance from myself, but I never stopped writing, or singing. I just stopped riding around in a van.
Most would agree that’s the least fun part of the whole thing anyway. Why now though, for the new album? It seems easy to just leave that part of your life behind for good—is it just something that’s in your bones, writing music; singing?
I guess I can’t help myself. And barbering is a hard road.
So my barber tells me. How do you like it, the “settled down” life of a parent in what I’m assuming is a slower pace of life in the Catskills? Do you miss the city life much?
I don’t find anything about being a parent to be remotely settling. We’re in the city most of the time for a couple of years now, but try to find time for it all….that’s the challenge, right?
So I’m told. I have enough trouble managing myself; I can’t imagine throwing a kid in the mix. Now, I know you had maybe more your fair share of trials + tribulations with the industry while in your old band, but, in Shivaree, you also saw first-hand this massive shift in the music industry brought on by the prevalence of online activity from your band’s founding to its slpit. Any thoughts on how the industry has changed since you first started making music?
Yeah, we sort of hopped an elevator to the top and then immediately got booted out of an 80th floor window. There was a lot of sushi and parties on the way down. Nuts in first class…that was the best. Now? Now we’re spray painting on walls, heaven help us. Though my dad would say, “at least you have walls”.
Wise father, I’d say. I know your playing a couple shows at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC, but any plans for a tour any time soon?
Yes, starting May 14th. Come say hello.
Will do! Thanks for talking with us and best of luck on with the new album.
Ambrosia plays a record release party in NYC at Rockwood on May 14th; check her Facebook page for more dates and pre-order and preview the album, Weeping Cherry, out April 28th via Barbés Records, also available through iTunes.